Could bariatric surgery cure diabetes?

Posted: 5:49 PM EDT Apr 08, 2012   Updated: 6:33 PM EDT Apr 15, 2012

By the year 2050 1 in 3 adults could be living with diabetes. This startling statistic is making many patients with type two diabetes turn to weight loss surgery for a cure.

Debbie Zimmerman had been thinking about weight loss surgery for years. She was taking insulin four times a day, her blood sugar was out of control and so were her cholesterol and triglycerides.

"In the last couple of years I could feel my life slipping away," said Zimmerman. "I could feel the quality of life just going down and down, it was scary."

Last February Debbie had gastric bypass surgery. Within months she had lost 130 pounds and she was off medication for all of her health conditions.

"Almost immediately my blood sugar numbers started coming down."

Debbie's story is common. Surgery was the best medicine when the typical prescription of drugs, diet and exercise didn't work. Medical experts say weight loss operations to cure type two diabetes are no longer a last resort.

"The cure rate following a bypass can be up to 50% compared to medical management which is around 12%," explained Dr. Maher El Chaar, Co-Medical Director of Bariatric Surgery at St. Luke's University Hospital.

In-fact two studies that were just released found the same thing. Researchers looked at permanent weight loss surgery compared to medical treatment for patients with severe diabetes. In both studies patients who had surgery reduced their sugar levels without taking meds, a feat not accomplished by the folks relying on drugs.

The gastric bypass operation staples the stomach and re-routes the intestine. And that may be the key.

"We think that the exclusion of this first part of the small bowel or intestine is what cures diabetes," said Dr. El Chaar.

For Debbie the operation was life changing, and it was all for the better.

"Now I just feel so hopeful, I don't know how long I'm going to be here but I think whatever time I have left is gonna be much better because of the surgery."